Why child care cuts hurt us all - Women's Foundation California
Child playing
Poverty can have a profound effect on a child’s brain development.

On Wednesday, SF Gate published an article that puts a face behind the poverty numbers in California.

This article, titled State’s budget cuts leave poor in the fix, tells the story of one single mother who did everything right, but is nevertheless now struggling to keep a roof over her family’s head.

This story is important to us because Latifa Lewis is a member of Parent Voices, an organization we first funded in 1998 and are proud to fund to this day. Parent Voices is a parent-led, parent-run grassroots organization with a mission to make quality child care accessible and affordable for all families.

Latifa Lewis went to college and received a bachelor’s degree in business. She had a job as executive assistant at a housing agency. She made a lovely home for her daughters in Hayward and she put her 4-year-old daughter in private day care where she was progressing beautifully.

Then, last fall, Latifa’s state-supported child care was cut and she could no longer afford to enroll her daughter. Soon after, she lost her job, her food stamps were cut, and she is now unable to stay in her apartment. The SF Gate article photographed her looking for a more affordable home.

Latifa is in this predicament because the state budget cuts of the last five years have gutted social service programs like childcare and CalWORKs. These cuts are leaving women like Latifa in a lurch when they need a safety net the most—when they lose their jobs and when they have small children who need to be in day care while they’re at work earning wages to support them.

These are the numbers behind Latifa’s story:

  • Since 2008, child care funding in California has been reduced by more than $1 billion and we currently serve 111,095 fewer children than we did in 2008.
  • This dramatic decline in funding does not, however, represent a decline in need. At any point in this time period, there have been some 200,000 fully eligible low-income families on waiting lists across the state.

Latifa’s story is a story of many single mothers in California. It’s heartbreaking to hear, but, of all people, Latifa is not discouraged.

She knows that she will bounce back because she’s determined, smart and resourceful.

But will it be too late for her daughter? Her 4-year-old daughter needs to be in child care now, when it’s most important.

Robust research in neuroscience and psychology has shown that experiences in early childhood literally shape the structure of our brains. A two-decade long study, for example, found that more mental stimulation a child gets around the age of four, the more developed the parts of their brains dedicated to language and cognition will be in the decades ahead.

Not only, but research has shown that poverty can have a profound and measurable effect on brain development. A study by Martha Farah and her colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania has shown that language, memory and “executive functions” (which relate to a child’s ability to regulate emotion and attention), are all affected negatively by childhood poverty. These three brain functions are essential to success in school and later in life.

Isn’t this research enough to effectively argue that if cuts need to be made, they should not be made to child care? We can balance our budgets on our children’s backs today, but we’ll end up paying for it tomorrow.

As voters, we need to think long-term as opposed to short-term. Voting to pass Proposition 30 was an excellent example of us thinking long term.

But we need to continue thinking long term, especially when it comes to childcare. Consider these numbers: Every dollar our state spends on preschool creates about three dollars in economic benefit.

And these are conservative estimates developed by economist Tim Bartik. Some studies that take more variables into account found that, in the long term, society gets back $16 for every tax dollar invested in the early care and education program.

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